Going into Week 3, many of you are probably starting to talk with your students about your first upcoming exam. You may soon be explaining which content is most important, how your exam will be structured, or maybe even how much time you expect that they devote to studying for the exam. These are all important in helping students prepare, but are we assuming (maybe incorrectly) that our students already know HOW to study effectively?

As this article explains, most students probably plan to re-read their notes and their text, working homework problems, or using an old exam that you may have provided. Maybe what they really need is a STRATEGY or Game Plan for studying.

An article by Andaya et al. (2017) examined students’ pre-exam study strategies and then used a post-exam review assignment to help students evaluate their areas of weakness when it comes to exam preparation. In their introductory biology class, a large majority of students used study methods that relied on information and materials generated by the instructor such as studying worksheets and completing pre-lecture assignments. Conversely, study approaches that required students to be more self-motivated and self-directed such as self-testing, studying regularly, and reading before lecture were used by far fewer students and were rated as less valuable. Only 7% of students believed that concept mapping was valuable, despite the fact that they are frequently asked to design similar maps during class and struggled the most with using incorrect logic and concept application on exams.

What the researchers recommend:

Talk with your students about the difference between deep versus surface learning strategies and have them write a short reflection about their own study habits.

Cognitively passive learning behaviors (surface learning approaches)

  • I came to class.
  • I reviewed my class notes.
  • I made index cards.
  • I highlighted the text.

Cognitively active learning behaviors (deep learning approaches)

  • I wrote my own study questions.
  • I tried to figure out the answer before looking it up.
  • I closed my notes and tested how much I remembered.
  • I broke down complex processes step-by-step.

Encourage students to seek individual help during office hours (or to use the tutoring center).

Incorporate more opportunities for students to construct their own knowledge (see deep learning approaches above).

Add reflective questions on assignments or pre-class work that focus both on comprehension monitoring and self-evaluation

Add a post-exam review opportunity for students to correct their work, explaining why they answered incorrectly and which resource they used to correct their answer.

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